Moyo Gems is a groundbreaking small-scale mining program in East Africa that focuses on gemstone traceability and female empowerment through formalization and education.
This program is a huge step forward for the small-scale colored gemstone mining industry and I’m extremely excited to be working with these gemstones and investing further into these women miners and communities.
Before I get into the details of the program, you might find yourself asking, “What is small-scale mining?” and "Why is this program so important?” Although I won’t be getting into all the details here, Artisanal Small-scale Mining (ASM), in brief, is mining that is done by individuals who use limited technology. This can pertain to all types of mining, including metal and gemstones.
According to the Moyo Gems website, approximately 90% of all mining labor in the world is done by ASM workers, in 80 countries worldwide. Globally each year, they produce about 20% of all gold mined, 20% of all diamonds, and 70-90% of all colored gemstones!
It’s estimated about 30% of these ASM workers are women. Certain regions in Africa have higher percentages of women miners - Tanzania being one of them!
Women miners are extremely marginalized –– they have less access to education, funding, and resources. Moyo Gems focuses on these women to help them succeed in their local communities, both with their mining careers and their long-term personal goals.
The strength and power of the Moyo Gems project is the fact that the program was built in collaboration with the women miners in Tanzania. The goal is to empower the miners to learn new skills, work safely, improve financial security, and create stable and sustainable markets for equitable trade.
MOYO GEMS - PROGRAM BEGINNINGSMoyo Gems was started in collaboration with TAWOMA (Tanzania Women’s Mining Association), PACT and Cristina Villegas, Stuart Pool of Nineteen48, and Monica Stephenson of Anza Gems. From what I understand, the group started the conversion at the Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference - (thank you Susan for bringing them all together!). The GIA already had a pilot program in the Tanga region for ASM workers surrounding mining education and gemstone identification, so this was able to serve as a building block at the start of the Moyo Gems Project. Everlegder also joined the project to serve as blockchain traceability.
Members of the original group traveled to Tanzania in 2018 to propose the idea and meet with 50-60 of the original miners. They gathered with members of TAWOMA, key local leaders, and PACT to facilitate the conversation. The goal was to have the miners co-design the program based on their specific needs and goals. What are their challenges? How can the program be crafted to benefit them? This conversation was the start of what became the final program outlined below.
MOYO GEMS - PROGRAM DETAILS
It’s important to note that being a part of Moyo Gems is completely free for the miners.
Formalization and Education
The first step in the program is to formalize the women miners by legally registering them to work. Next, they are educated on the basics of mining, gem identification, gemstone value, through visual pamphlets that were made in collaboration with the GIA.
TAWOMA is made up of roughly 3000 women miners of gold, diamonds, gemstones, and minerals. Each miner has a different background - some are just starting out with little-to-no knowledge, while others come from mining families with some basic knowledge.
PACT provides free safety training with members on the ground, training the miners on health and personal safety. They are also educated in how to improve mining operations, based on the CRAFT Code, which focuses on human rights, gender balance, and environmental responsibility. Training is also provided to improve negotiation skills and financial literacy.
Trading & Market Days
Gemstones, through Moyo Gems, have a shortened supply chain where the stones go through less hands and are traced all the way back to the specific miner. The goal was to shorten the supply chain without disrupting the relationships already established in the local area.
Typically, the gemstones would go from the miner, to a local broker (trader), potentially through several other brokers, eventually an expert broker, and then to buyers. Now, through Moyo Gems, the gemstones travel through a much shorter supply chain –– the gemstone starts in the miners hands, goes through one local broker, and then to buyers during trade events or “market days”. The very first market day for Moyo Gems was in 2019!
The regional government is involved in the trade events - the events actually take place in government buildings which provide a safe environment for the trade markets to take place. Security is provided at the markets as well as transportation back and forth between the mine, villages, and the events.
The miners go to the markets themselves and get feedback from the brokers and exporters on exactly what they’re looking for. The miners are involved in the transactions themselves, giving them agency and more opportunities to be involved in the negotiating, trading, and cash transactions.
At market, all sales are voluntary and it’s up to the miner if they want to sell to the Moyo system or not (they’re seeing that most miners want to because they are able to make more from the sale through the Moyo system!). Then, the gemstones are bagged in branded tamper-proof bags, duties/taxes are paid by the exporter, and the gemstones are delivered to approved Moyo Gems trading partners (aka international gemstone vendors). The gemstone vendors then have the rough cut by trusted partners and responsible cutting facilities and/or artisanal gemstone cutters.
Typically miners were paid only 15-20% of the sale but now if they choose to go through the Moyo Gems channel, they make 95% of the sale while the broker makes 5%. During the inception of the program, PACT asked the miners to pick six brokers they trust and respect. The organizers of the program spent a lot of time making sure there would be no unintentional consequences for the women because of this new system. So far, everyone is thriving! According to Moyo Gems, the brokers themselves are still thrilled with the transactions because the volume has increased. Now they are able to make an amount in a few days which would typically take them a few months.
This drastically shortened supply chain has proven to be a win-win for everyone involved.
MOYO GEMS - DURING COVID
ASM is a subsistence level economy and since 2020, COVID created even more dire and devastating circumstances for ASM miners. Any removal of global buyers affects them directly. Many miners had to move to farming or other local opportunities (very limited) to try and survive and avoid food insecurity.During the peak of COVID lockdown in 2020, the program leaders were able to raise awareness and help provide aid to the miners, their families, and the surrounding communities. In collaboration with local partners, such as Gem Legacy, they were able to provide food, masks, soap, and additional PPE.
Moyo Gems organizers acknowledged that the aid was of course great and necessary, but their original idea was to create a sustainable economic system –– a renewable market for the communities. So, they were able to eventually pull off remote market days with trusted local brokers, where international buyers were still able to purchase gemstones from the miners, even during the pandemic.
MOYO GEMS - MEET THE MINERS
I’ve specifically highlighted a few miners who mine red garnet (the type of Moyo Gems that Made Line Jewelry is currently using), but you can also meet more of the miners here! I’ve been told all the miners have given consent to use their first names and are excited for us to share their photos and stories!Ziada (above) has been mining for two decades and says it’s the only work she’s known! After her husband died, she became the sole breadwinner for her three children, making the income from her mining efforts even more crucial. She’s interested in saving money over time to start her own business and invest in better tools so that her mining can improve.
Rehema (above) has been mining for 25 years but actually had no formal training until Moyo Gems was started. She’s now legally licensed to mine and has a better understanding of gemstone identification and worth, giving her more agency over her sales and income. Over time, she hopes to build her grandchildren a house.
I highly recommend reading through the Moyo Gems FAQ page where they go into detail about the average living wage in Tanzania, and more details about how much the miners are paid.
MOYO GEMS - A RAY OF LIGHT AND TRANSPARENCY IN AN OPAQUE INDUSTRY
I hope I’ve made it clear how extremely important and unique Moyo Gems are! The intent is to build a community that will benefit from its local resources and create an ecosystem that will be able to propel the miners and their families into their personal long-term goals. The program has done so well in Tanzania, it has now expanded to Kenya, with the hopes of expanding even more!
As Monica Stephenson said in her presentation at the 2021 Chicago Responsible Jewelry Conference, Moyo Gems is about “more than just educating women, but actually giving them a seat at the table and bringing their gems to market…the entire project represents a distribution of wealth as well as a shortened supply chain.”
Ultimately, a shortened supply chain equals greater transparency. And hopefully, as in the case with Moyo Gems, that transparency reveals an equitable, human-centered, responsible supply chain.
Consumers - Start to think more about where the gemstones in your jewelry come from. Who mined them? Who cut them? What are the conditions like where they’re working? Were they treated and paid fairly?
Jewelers - Join me in asking your vendors these same questions! Continue to source traceable gemstones from vendors like Anza Gems and Nineteen48 who foster programs like Moyo Gems and support ASM workers.